This chapter looks back at the nervy run-in to the 92-93 promotion race – as a controversial new signing arrives at Upton Park.

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Speedie picks up the promotion pace

The one truism of any promotion trail is that at some point you’re going to hit a bump in the road. Brian Clough used to say that players are like racehorses, not carthorses (though anyone who saw Ray Atteveld might disagree) and you need to treat them as such.

As a team starts to flag near the finish line of a promotion season, it’s common for managers to seek out fresh legs. Free up some of the workload from your hardworking thoroughbreds. Bring in a little bit of energy, a little bit of positivity to a tired dressing room. Or in the case of David Speedie, bring in a little bit of bastard.

Throughout his career the Scottish striker had acquired a reputation as one of the most horrible opponents in English football. By all accounts, playing against David Speedie was about as enjoyable as having a nest of wasps take up temporary accommodation in your arsehole. Despite being only 5’6 in stature, he was a giant personality. And frankly, a giant pain in the backside.

Speedie was well-known at Upton Park having played here many times for Chelsea, where he formed a fine partnership with Kerry Dixon. Whilst Big Kerry would use his big frame to unsettle his opponents, Speedie relied almost exclusively on his mouth. A world-class gobshite, he spent every second of every minute delivering verbals to players, officials, and the crowd. He was the sort of player loved by his own fans, and instantly hated elsewhere in the Football League. And he was by no means a favourite of the Chicken Run.

In fairness, he was a half-decent player in his time. A Scotland international (he allegedly called Graeme Souness a “muppet” on his international debut), he’d been on the brink of the Scotland 1986 World Cup squad (before telling Alex Ferguson to “stick it” when asked to go on the standby list) and had a record of scoring high quality, if not a high quantity of goals. However, his most recent spells at Southampton, Birmingham and West Brom had delivered a meagre return of just four in 28 league games. So his arrival at West Ham was hardly greeted with fanfare. Still, Billy Bonds had crossed paths with him enough to know that his knack of scoring important goals in important games could be very handy during a tense run-in. And with Clive Allen’s injury potentially ruling him out for the entire season, he gave us much-needed options up front.

The early signs weren’t good. Though his industry wasn’t in doubt, Speedie looked rustier than Robert Maxwell’s wristwatch in front of goal. When he missed an absolute sitter in a 2-2 draw with Millwall, there  were murmurs of discontent from the terraces. After five goalless appearances, which included two chastening defeats at the hands of Oxford and Southend, the dissent grew louder.

The pressure was on when Leicester came to Upton Park in front of the ITV cameras. It was exactly the sort of occasion Speedie had cherished over the years and, finally, he delivered. Two instinctive finishes eased the tension as we coated to a 3-0 win.

He netted again on a nervy afternoon to help us to a 2-1 win over Bristol Rovers, and played well in a crucial victory at Swindon – where Clive Allen made a scoring reappearance from the subs bench – that set up a final day for the ages at Upton Park.

EX: I remember my dad saying, “We haven’t signed that horrible bastard from Chelsea, have we?” I was surprised because I always just thought of him as a really good player. I didn’t know anything about David Speedie’s reputation. I knew he scored a lot of goals for Chelsea and Coventry. I remember watching his Liverpool debut and scoring vs United live on telly. Then he went to Blackburn and helped them get promotion. He seemed like a great signing.

DAVE: Signing David Speedie on loan was a smart move from Billy, for his work-rate alone that deal made sense at that stage of the season. He had a bit of a slow start but actually left West Ham with a goal ratio of 1 in 3.

So, I will always be thankful for his time with us. His time can be overlooked probably because of the duration of his time here. In fact, part of me wonders if he’d even have signed for us in this day and age. Social media would probably have erupted, as these days it’s a metric for club officials to gauge the reaction of the fanbase. And there wasn’t a lot of love for David Speedie in the East End.

EX: It’s an interesting point. There were loads of fans who had the same reaction as my dad, but no way to express it. So, you just had to get on with it and hope he was decent.

Recently, we’ve had El-Hadj Diouf and Ben Thatcher linked with us under Sam Allardyce, but the reaction from fans on social media was so bad the club didn’t do the deals. I don’t think we missed out on much there, to be honest. David Speedie, however, deserves a mention in the history books.